Saturday evening, in front of 21,000 rather tense Vancouver fans, the Los Angeles Galaxy made things rather difficult for the Whitecaps. Just two weeks ago, the Caps were sitting pretty in second place in the ridiculously tight Western Conference. Today, after two consecutive losses, Vancouver sits in seventh. Such is life in the West.
More after the jump.
The result, most Vancouver fans will say, was somewhat flattering to the visitors. LA ceded possession for much of the match, choosing instead to let Vancouver keep the ball but force them outside. The Caps had more shots, more shots on goal and better quality chances overall, but couldn’t find the back of the net thanks in large part to the heroics of Galaxy keeper Jaime Peneda. Also not to be discounted is the contribution of MLS’ newest designated player, Omar Gonzalez. LA played very strong positional defence in the centre of the field, often forcing the Caps to play out wide. As a result, Vancouver attempted 29 crosses from open play (a notoriously low-percentage way to score) to LA’s 13. Russell Teibert himself attempted 16 crosses. On the day, they only completed 7, thanks in large part to Gonzalez who has 12 clearances on the night.
Wide play and final score notwithstanding, Vancouver can take some positives from the match. LA is regarded as one of the best teams in the league, and Vancouver played more than well enough to win the game. Andy O’Brien, only 3 minutes into his return, double-teamed the ball instead of marking Landon Donovan. It was one of the few mistakes the big Irishman made on his return, but proved costly. At the other end, Jaime Penedo made several top-notch saves, including what will surely be a save-of-the-year candidate on Jordan Harvey, to preserve the victory. Although Vancouver’s vaunted home attack didn’t add to their tally, they had their chances, and can expect some better results if they continue generating them in those numbers.
Now for the outlook. The common wisdom is that the magic number will be around 48-50 points to make the playoffs in the West this season. Vancouver, with 9 games remaining, currently has 36. No reason to panic yet, but with their rather abysmal road record it means that every remaining home point is absolutely vital. If Vancouver can manage wins in their four remaining games at home, a big ask with matches against Real Salt Lake and Portland, they will still probably need to find a point or two on the road. That’s never been an easy task for the Caps. Their best chance will come in two weeks time against FC Dallas. Vancouver has never played particularly well in Dallas, but the worst of the summer heat should be past by then, and Dallas has the worst home goal differential – +6 with 20 goals scored – of any of Vancouver’s home opponents. The optimist in me wants to say that Vancouver will beat up on lowly Chivas this coming Sunday, then use that momentum to scratch a win in Dallas and a draw in San Jose. The realist in me thinks that they’ll manage only one point from those two away games, and that might have to be enough for the season. It’s hard to see them coming out of Montreal or Seattle with anything, given those teams’ recent form, and Colorado away will be a tough ask on the penultimate week, with the Rapids likely duelling Vancouver for the fifth and final spot.
My prediction: Vancouver gets it done. 4W-2D-3L for 50 points total and a berth in the play-in game.